Highlights of the Bill
The Bill replaces the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. It addresses children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.
The Bill permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences. Also, any 16-18 year old, who commits a lesser, i.e., serious offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) will be constituted in each district. The JJB will conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a juvenile offender is to be sent for rehabilitation or be tried as an adult. The CWC will determine institutional care for children in need of care and protection.
Eligibility of adoptive parents and the procedure for adoption have been included in the Bill.
Penalties for cruelty against a child, offering a narcotic substance to a child, and abduction or selling a child have been prescribed.
Key Issues and Analysis
There are differing views on whether juveniles should be tried as adults. Some argue that the current law does not act as a deterrent for juveniles committing heinous crimes. Another view is that a reformative approach will reduce likelihood of repeating offences.
The provision of trying a juvenile committing a serious or heinous offence as an adult based on date of apprehension could violate the Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 21 (requiring that laws and procedures are fair and reasonable). The provision also counters the spirit of Article 20(1) by according a higher penalty for the same offence, if the person is apprehended after 21 years of age.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatory countries to treat every child under the age of 18 years as equal. The provision of trying a juvenile as an adult contravenes the Convention.
Some penalties provided in the Bill are not in proportion to the gravity of the offence. For example, the penalty for selling a child is lower than that for offering intoxicating or psychotropic substances to a child.
The Standing Committee examining the Bill observed that the Bill was based on misleading data regarding juvenile crimes and violated certain provisions of the Constitution.